I am of the vintage that grew up detesting Neville Maxwell as an utterly contemptible India-hater. Or worse. A pro-Chinese communist toadie, even an unreconstructed Trotskyist who should never have been allowed to set foot in India, least of all accredited as the New Delhi correspondent of The Times (London). And whose treacherous book, India’s China War, you heard, was banned by our government for good reason (these were pre-Shiv Sena years, so it wasn’t actually banned). How dare a silly, ungrateful (for Indian hospitality) white man blame India for the Chinese “invasion” of 1962? How dare he insult Jawaharlal Nehru, even fellow communist Krishna Menon? What kind of man showed disrespect for Indian soldiers, who fought so bravely against humongous odds and neverending human waves? How dare he, most insulting of all, call it “India’s China War”? Just how could anybody, particularly a white man from a democracy, be so viciously nasty to democratic India as to question the very basis of its territorial claims, the McMahon Line — even to dismiss it as a colonial imposition on Tibet and China?
Remember, we were the children of the Sixties, fed on jingoistic propaganda and convenient military mythologies. We were the Ai mere watan ke logo generation that was easily persuaded to accept the “dus-dus ko ek ne maara (each Indian killed 10 Chinese before falling as he ran out of bullets)” understanding of that war.
Those who were suspected to have helped Maxwell were seen as traitors. Remember, Sam Manekshaw had, among the various “indiscretions” blamed on him, also the insinuation that he helped Maxwell access the Henderson Brooks committee report. Fortunately for India, he survived, thanks to one honourable fellow patriot, whom we know as Lt Gen J.F.R. Jacob and whom his friends, young and old, call Jake, who refused to give evidence against him, and the ever-maligned political class. Two outstanding defence ministers, Y.B. Chavan and Jagjivan Ram, cleaned out the Augean stables as the armed forces rapidly rebuilt themselves and the moustachioed, hunched figure of Sam Bahadur in a Gorkha cap became the most abiding personification of Indian generalship, the hero of the Bangladesh liberation war in 1971.
It is curious but utterly true that defeat inspires a lot more literature and storytelling than victory. India is no exception. The stalemate of 1965 produced a few books, the most significant being Lt Gen Harbakhsh Singh’s War Despatches.